We are Mindanao

I’m in love with Mindanao.

Of the three main islands in the Philippines, it’s the only one that my family doesn’t visit enough because it’s pretty far. I’m from Region III up North, and as of this post, I’ve only been to Mindanao once.

With this, you may say, why am I generalizing the whole place? Maybe I haven’t seen enough. Maybe I only saw the tourist-y places, where they put up a façade to earn more money. Maybe if I opened my eyes more, I would see that it’s not as lovable as I thought it was.

But that’s just the thing. If only you opened your eyes, you will see just how much there is to love about Mindanao, even if you only manage to take a glimpse.

A lot of the people I know, who have never been to Mindanao and have never been exposed to its natural beauty and even more beautiful people, think that Mindanao is such a scary place.

But it’s not.

The current events in Marawi are terrifying, but what haunts me the most is not just the fact that it’s happening. What haunts me the most is that Filipinos are doing this to fellow Filipinos.

Why? Why do we have to turn against each other?

Like I said, I’m from Luzon, but plenty of my college friends are from Mindanao. It’s one of the things that I love about UP. It exposes me to different cultures, different experiences, different backgrounds. I love how diverse our community is. And I love how it led me to meeting all these new friends.

They tell me stories about the mountains back home, about the beaches that are just within walking distance of their houses.

They tell me stories of flowing rivers, where they bathed as children, stories of lush forests they’ve explored when they were younger.

They tell me stories of fast-developing cities, places that have become more and more like the urban world as the years go by.

They tell me all about the diverse world they grew up knowing and loving. And every time they do, there is only one thing that runs through my head.

Beautiful.

Everything they tell me is beautiful.

Uniformity is beautiful, but so is diversity.

There is beauty in seeing something so different, so apart from anything else. At the same time, through their stories that show how unique and different they are, I see that we’re not so different, after all.

And the thing is, Mindanao is not just a place.

More than just a place, Mindanao is also its people.

While I don’t know much, I know enough to say that the same can be said about them.

Beautiful.

Quite a few of my closest friends are from Mindanao. One of them is a rambunctious girl who’s always willing to go on an adventure.

As a matter of fact, we recently planned that I would go to Davao, her home province, for vacation. I told her that I wanted to see the part of the country where she grew up in. We’ve been looking forward to this trip, but then this happened.

Now I’m not even sure if my parents will still let me go.

But my friend, she understands. That’s the kind of person she is. Every time I do something stupid, she never judges me. She always tries to understand. She teaches me Bisaya sometimes, and even when I think I don’t make any sense, she still tries to help me learn. She laughs at my accent, yet she never stops helping me.

In our three years of friendship, I’ve learned a lot of things about Mindanao from her. I think she got that warm and kind heart from her mother, who calls me “langga”. We both smile when we see these texts from her mom, because we think of each other as almost sisters now. I love her and I seriously can’t imagine my college life without her.

She is just one person, but she is Mindanao.

Another one of them is a smart and talented young woman who has big dreams that she wants to achieve. She’s one of the most hardworking people I’ve ever known, and also one of the jolliest. No matter what happens, she never gives up.

As a 5’0″ young woman, the phrase “small but terrible” definitely comes to mind when I see her. I love her guts, her confidence in the way she makes her decisions in life, her fierceness in going after her goals.

But most of all, I love her. Her loud laughter, her happy-go-lucky smile, her way of calling me “mami”. I love all these things about her.

She is just one person, but she is Mindanao.

One of my friends is also my classmate in a prerequisite subject. He’s a little shy, but once you get to know him, you won’t regret the effort that it will take you to befriend him. He’s like a motivational speaker / coach / cheerleader all in one. And he’s also one of the smartest people I know. He works very hard to reach his goals. Whenever we study together in a coffee shop somewhere, I see his passion in his work.

He was actually accepted to a really good college back in his home province, but he chose to go to UP Diliman. Sometimes he tells me he regrets not taking the full scholarship from back home, but there are a lot of things he loves about Manila as well. Still, nothing can ever replace home in his heart.

He is just one person, but he is Mindanao.

My seatmate in one of my classes last semester is also from Mindanao. I fell in love with the way his dimples show up whenever he smiled. I fell in love with the way he moved across the room, looking so confident and yet so shy at the same time. I fell in love with the way he spoke, with that little accent that gave people just enough hint that he may have come from the Southern part of the country. I fell in love with his voice, so soothing and deep and mellow.

Every time we talk, I can’t help but notice all the tiny wonderful things about him. Because the truth is, I fell in love with all the things that make him, him.

He is just one person, but he is Mindanao.

All these people, to me they are Mindanao. They are representative to the part of our country that has always lacked representation. And no matter how I try to wrap my mind around it, I just can’t grasp the idea that permeates the society. Why must we look at Mindanao differently? Mindanao is its people, and its people are just like us. Put us beside one another, and I doubt you’d even notice a difference.

We are them, and they are us.

See the thing is, these people I mentioned above? They are Mindanao. But not just them. We too, are Mindanao. Because Mindanao is a part of the Philippines, and we are Filipinos. Mindanao is a part of us.

I may not have family in Mindanao, but my friends do, and I love my friends, so I love their families too. The seatmate that I’m talking about? He’s from CDO.

Now my heart is breaking because his family is still back there in his home province, just two hours away from Marawi, where all the terrible things are happening right now. And I know that no matter what I say, no matter what I do, I can never comfort him enough. I can’t even begin to imagine what people who have families there must be feeling right now. It pains me even more to think that I, along with millions of individuals, am powerless in this situation.

I’m sorry if this blog post has turned into such a long essay. If you’re still reading, thank you. I just can’t help but share my sentiments regarding this issue. My heart is crying for my country. With the death of all the victims in Marawi is the death of the love and freedom that we should be promoting instead of fear.

A life lived in fear is not a life one should be living at all, and our people do not deserve this.

We deserve better, don’t you think? But we’re the only ones who can truly help ourselves.

If we don’t do something, then nothing will change.

My voice is tiny. I know I will not be heard. And I know that I can’t do anything of significant importance, at least not by myself.

But I do hope that things will get better in the future. If not for us, then perhaps for our children. Because we deserve better, and we are directly affected with whatever happens to any part of the country.

All of us, whether we’re from Luzon, Visayas, or Mindanao. All of us, because at the end of the day, we are Filipinos, products of the Philippines.

We are Mindanao.

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